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Obama and the Palestinian fig leaf

In the days when Fleet Street was the home of the British press, many clichés circulated as the gospel truth of journalism.
One was the claim that the safest issues to write an editorial about were Palestine and Afghanistan. Six hundred words on why Palestine needed a better deal or why Afghanistan had to be helped to develop its economy would make the writer feel good about himself while the paper could pose as a fount of wisdom — all that without committing anyone to anything let alone upsetting any apple carts.
It seems that the administration of US President Barack Obama has adopted at least part of the cliché by suddenly feeling an upsurge of sympathy for the Palestinian cause. For more than a week, the White House has been spreading the news that the US decided not to veto a resolution critical of settlement buildings in Israel on Obama’s “firm instructions.”
The resolution, No. 2334, is marketed as an attempt at reviving the mythical peace process by fomenting confusion regarding other key resolutions of the Security Council, on the subject, notably the famous 242. It makes a set of recommendations to Israel without even hinting at what might be done if they are ignored. More immediately, it gives Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu additional arguments in favor of the “stand firm and fast, no compromise” stance that he tries to justify with reference to an uncertain international situation compounded by Obama’s apparent wish to fire parting shots at his Israeli bête-noire.
A lackluster presidency
You need not be an expert in diplomacy to know that the resolution reduces any chance there might have been for a two-state solution, a chimera put in circulation by the then juvenile UN and later given a second life by President George W. Bush. Because Obama is intelligent enough to know this, the only reason for his eleventh-hour activism on this issue must be his desire to hide aspects of his lackluster presidency, especially in international affairs. One could already imagine him claiming in his memoirs that he had “worked hard” for a two-state solution until the last moments of his presence in the White House. (I wish Sen. George Mitchell would write about his experience as Obama’s Middle East peace appointee and how the eleventh-hour self-styled peacemaker effectively sabotaged every practical step in that direction.)
Those who might ask why Obama did not do a thing eight years — or even two years — ago, must remember that he was more concerned with his petty electoral calculations than any desire for justice for the Palestinians. In 2008, he needed the support of Jewish Americans in such crucial states as Florida and Ohio; and they did help by giving him 85 percent of their votes. Last year, he had the same calculation, this time in favor of Hillary Clinton, his Democrat Party’s presidential candidate. No longer in need of electoral calculations, he can rediscover a conscience that reminds him of his attachment in his youth to the Palestinian cause.
Kerry’s failure
Obama’s foreign-policy factotum John Kerry has also been searching for a fig leaf to hide the nakedness of his failure as secretary of state. His entourage tells me that he wanted to make a big speech on the subject in 2014, presumably to divert attention from his and Obama’s abject failures on Georgia, the Baltic States, Turkey, Egypt, Poland, Ukraine and Syria among other places. According to the yarn spun by his entourage, Kerry did not trigger his logorrhea because Obama ordered him to remain silent after the 2016 presidential election.
With that order no longer in force, Kerry, too, could build a bit of a legacy with a 60-minute diatribe that is bound to be studied as a model of confusion and dishonesty in diplomacy. According to French officials, Kerry has also asked to be allowed to make another lengthy speech in Paris later this month on the same subject, as another failed president, Francois Hollande, launches an international peace conference on Palestine in Paris. Well, there is no reason why Hollande should be denied the fig leaf that Obama and Kerry tried procure for themselves in the name of Palestine.
Obama, Kerry and Hollande are not the first to try to look heroic at the expense of the Palestinians, and the Israelis who suffer and die in a 70-year old zugzwang carted by the so-called international community which has told Arabs, and more specifically Palestinians, that they need do nothing themselves to achieve a peace settlement with Israel; the UN is there to do the work by passing endless resolutions with no mechanism for implementation.
For people far from the conflict and with no real interest in it, adopting a heroic posture at the expense of the Palestinians, or the Israelis for that matter, is no big deal.
The problem is that such heroism bought at the expense of others who pay with their lives could only prolong a conflict that might have been resolved decades ago had not others, starting with the British, the UN, the Arab League, the US, Soviets, etc., not intervened, often with empty promises or self-centered schemes, on one side or another.
The Obama-Kerry tandem may yet engage in other shenanigans before they ride into the sunset. Their political careers over in disaster across the board, they have nothing to lose by posing as peacemakers while settling personal scores on the side.
The Palestinians and Israelis should learn that no outsider, even with the best of intentions, which is not the case with Obama and Kerry, could solve their problems for them. It is up to the Palestinians and Israelis to decide whether they can live together and on what terms. Big speeches and meaningless resolutions might camouflage that fact for a while but will not deprive it of its urgency.
• Amir Taheri was executive editor in chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at, or written for, innumerable publications and published 11 books. Originally published in Asharq Al-Awsat